Following the death of a 50-year-old cyclist last month at Southwest Delhi’s Mahipalpur flyover, cycling enthusiasts have called for better protection for the community.
The deceased, Subhendu Banerjee, a businessman from Gurgaon and an avid cyclist, was riding alone when a BMW car hit him from the rear.
Police said he had a helmet on and would cycle every day.
Sarika Panda, the ‘BYCS Mayor’ for Gurgaon, said it should be called an incident and not an accident. BYCS is an Amsterdam-based NGO, which supports community-led urban change through cycling.
“The fundamental correction that we need to do is stop using the word accidents because it gives a free hand to the people who are causing it and driving carelessly. We must use the word crash or incident,” said Panda.
In light of the frequent road crashes involving pedestrians and cyclists, Panda appealed to the government to build “forgiving infrastructure”.
“We are humans, who are prone to commit mistakes, unlike robots. Therefore, we need forgiving infrastructure so that even if a human is committing an error, it should not lead to anyone’s death or injuries. We are going in the opposite direction and creating infrastructure that is dangerous by design. This (death) is a result of dangerous design. There needs to be a paradigm shift in the way we approach infrastructure,” says Panda.
A recent National Family Health Survey (NFHS)-5 revealed that only about 8 per cent of Indian households own cars while 55 per cent of Indian households have a bicycle. The survey further suggested that 54 per cent of Indian households own scooters and motorcycles.
Manas Fuloria, an avid cyclist and co-founder of IT service company Nagarro, said that a week before his death, Banerjee was part of a bicycle rally to observe World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims.
“It is ironic that for a country with an average monthly income of around Rs 23,000, we spend thousands of crores of rupees on road infrastructure catered to cars. It’s great we build highways for one to be able to drive at 120 kilometres per hour or more. But are we thinking alongside about how do we make safe spaces for people who are forced to commute for work by bicycle, or who likes to cycle?” says Fuloria.
“Thousands of people cycle to work because they can’t even afford public transport. People who cycle for fitness and as a hobby can afford safety gear. But how can someone who saves Rs 500-1,000 every month think of safety gear? They risk their lives to earn a livelihood,” said Panda.
Both Panda and Fuloria advocated for designated cycling tracks and called for stringent enforcement of rules. “Cycle tracks are sometimes poorly designed, or they have cracks or encroachments. Over the years, we have managed to clear encroachments on main roads but we have to do the same thing for cycle paths. Once this is done, we need enforcement that these tracks are only designated for cyclists,” Fuloria said.
Everyone is a pedestrian at some point, said Panda, and therefore, there needs to be better infrastructure for their safety.
“Even an owner of a BMW has to walk at some point. Hence, there needs to be better-designated footpaths and tracks for pedestrians and cyclists. Also, there need to be more cycling tracks that provide end-to-end connection. If I don’t have a cycling track from my home to my work, why will I use a bicycle?” she said.
India has set itself a target to achieve net zero by 2070. The Indian government has also started to push for electronic vehicles to mitigate the effects of global warming and combat the rising prices of petrol and diesel. “While more and more countries are promoting the use of bicycles, India has not shown keen interest in that direction. We need more cycling tracks and better enforcement,” Fuloria said.